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Absolute Prohibitions without Divine Promises

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2022

Anthony O'Hear
Affiliation:
University of Buckingham
Rachael Wiseman
Affiliation:
University of Liverpool
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Summary

Punishment of the innocent appears early on in the essay3 as a species of the genus ‘injustice’, and Anscombe notes that ‘in present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one’; whereas, in her own (much-quoted) view, it would be a ‘great improvement’ if generic terms such as ‘untruthful’, ‘unchaste’, ‘unjust’ were treated as bedrock for the purpose of guiding action: ‘We should no longer ask whether doing something was “wrong”, passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust; and the answer would sometimes be clear at once.’4 But with the turn towards consequentialism in Moore and his successors, a situation develops in which ‘every one of the best known English academic moral philosophers [with some qualification in regard to R. M. Hare] has put out a philosophy according to which, e.g., it is not possible to hold that it cannot be right to kill the innocent as a means to any end whatsoever and that someone who thinks otherwise is in error’.5 Anscombe draws the conclusion that ‘all these philosophies are quite incompatible with the Hebrew-Christian ethic. For it has been characteristic of that ethic to teach that there are certain things forbidden whatever consequences threaten’—and she supplies a longish list which is headed by ‘choosing to kill the innocent for any purpose, however good’.6

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Moral Philosophy , pp. 217 - 245
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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